By Tony Farina
The Empire State Development Agency (ESD) is the umbrella organization for New York’s two principal economic development entities, the Urban Development Corporation and the Job Development Authority. It is the governor’s chief economic development tool and the president is Buffalo’s Howard Zemsky.
ESD also is the parent agency of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, the government entity that hired and then fired the original contractor for the signature replica canal and ice rink project back in July of 2013 after claiming the low bidder at nearly $20 million, DiPizio Construction, wasn’t up to the task.
DiPizio responded with a lawsuit, claiming it had been wrongfully terminated and made the scapegoat for government’s inefficiencies and design problems, a suit that continues to this day. Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation which retained the law firm of Phillips Lytle to defend the suit.
DiPizio claims it has been badly damaged by losing the state contract which eventually was awarded to Pike Construction of Rochester, a firm that reportedly had close ties to then Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy.
So just how much have state taxpayers paid to the Buffalo law firm to defend the DiPizio suit? Probably millions, but we don’t have the numbers because the state won’t release them.
I filed a Freedom of Information Law request last Dec. 15 to Empire State, seeking a full accounting of invoices from and payments made to Phillips Lytle in defense of the Canalside suit.
So far, I have received a total of nine responses, none of them containing the numbers of how much taxpayer money has been spent to defend the suit.
The latest response was dated July 24, 2016, and it was just like every other response from the state except the date when I might get the accounting keeps changing. Here’s the latest response from Empire State:
“Dear Mr. Farina,
Please be advised that we are still processing the attached FOIL request. We hope to have a response to you on or before August 18, 2016. Thank you, Lesley Hall, Records Access Officer.”
Freedom of Information Laws were designed to guarantee that the public has access to the public records of governmental bodies, but as we see in this case, the state doesn’t always comply.
We’ll see what comes Aug. 18. In the meantime, the legal tab is running and the taxpayers are paying.